Here is the rest (the exciting part, the part where we are actually in Budapest) of my original composition late that evening, October 21, trying to capture the events of our first big day. It didnʼt help I was utterly jet-lag exhausted (although Janet, who had not slept during the flight east across the Atlantic, was in worse shape than I).
If you recall (or have reread yesterdayʼs segment), we have just arrived by taxi at our hotel in downtown Pest, only a couple blocks from the river Danube.
We unloaded bags. I paid our driver 10,000 HUF for 5700 (5100 + tip, a bit high — should have been 5610), studiously pronouncing “köszönöm,”* received my change, and went inside. The lobby was small, yellow but comfortable. A cheerful dark-haired girl in a white shirt, leather vest and leather pants had trouble finding our reservation (it was under “Randolph Burr,” the software having put my middle name into our last name for no good reason), but we were able to check right in! At 9:00 AM! Outstanding.
Room 308 (fourth [American] floor) was really big — door opening into a hall past the bathroom on the right, big living room/sitting area with kitchenette and on to big bedroom (roughly king-sized bed) with windows opening onto the street where we had arrived. Plenty of storage, too. Writing desk by the window in the living room. Two TVs — one in the living room, one in the bedroom. Pocket doors to close off bedroom and shower area (with toilet) in the bathroom. The bathroom had no actual door.
We unpacked, showered, organized, and headed out for the day (both feeling utterly exhausted). We wandered up, easterly, to St. István Basilica, just a few blocks away, going east around the Gresham Palace/Four Seasons — onto a street parallel to Merleg utca on the far side of the same hotel. It was closed to cars all the way to the Basilica. We walked to the church, noticing desultorily restaurants all along the way. We crossed the huge square in front of the church and around that the building (we werenʼt sure we could enter without paying) to the right and behind onto a very busy street, taking a left and onward for blocks and blocks — me attempting to head us toward Parliament — until I guessed we probably should turn, left again, on another busy street, straight at the parliament building.
It was kind of awkward, with traffic and pedestrians, for us to get around the parliament building, keeping to the left. And we wanted to cross a busy street and tram tracks to stroll by the river behind Parliament, but we turned back and took streets toward our hotel and past, seeking Vaci utca, the tourist mall/street. We walked that street, closed to cars, all the way to the far end where we found the Great Market Hall just up the street from Liberty Bridge. Although I was nervous, Janet took us inside the huge building for bread (four croissants and a round loaf of brown bread), cheese (a brie wedge and then an Ementaly slice) and two grapefruit. We were planning snacks and breakfasts.Although I was hesitant to an extreme about our abilities to communicate, each stall operator either showed us the correct price for what we pointed at or told us in varying degrees of English.
We shopped the whole main level, returning to three or four kiosks to buy. The grapefruit had ranged from 498 HUF per kilogram to 250 per kilogram. We chose the cheapest, but most of that fruit had all been very badly bruised; even so, we found two that turned out to be in fine condition when we ate them days later. Leaving the market, we walked the Váci utca pedestrian mall with our fruit in the zip-to-store bag I have carried in the butt pocket of my vests, unused, for nearly a decade (yay, it got used!). Back in our room, we had some snacks and talked (bread and cheese with a red wine, named St. István, supplied with the minibar in the room for 1450 forints). About 5:30 we decided to dress and seek dinner, having drunk the wine, about half brown bread and Ementaly cheese.
I had pointed out a restaurant sign featuring “pumpkin risotto with pork tenderloins” (in English, as most restaurant signs were — much the same as Prague) which we had passed on our walk. Janet (eventually, with my incorrect recollections) got us back there to eat. Tense, our first experience interacting (well, save the Market stalls), we got seated, non-smoking, right by the door, and ordered. Our wine turned out to be St. István for 2800 HUF (though we somehow paid 3200 on the bill), and we both had the pumpkin (squash actually?) risotto with fried chunks of pork chop. Really good. We added dessert and coffee (hers espresso, mind cappuccino — decaf both), the dessert being fried cheese dumplings in sour cream sauce, a variation on a Hungarian specialty — lovely!
We were home to early bed about 8:30 to 9:00 PM, having stretched our jetlagged bodies as long as we could.
Thus endeth Thursday, October 20 to Friday, October 21 — day number one of our vacation in Hungary.
* “Thank you.”